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California Science Center in Los Angeles

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Starting next month, NASA will begin delivering its four Space Shuttle orbiters to their final destinations. After an extensive decommissioning process, the fleet -- which includes three former working spacecraft and one test orbiter -- is nearly ready for public display. On April 17, the shuttle Discovery will be attached to a modified 747 Jumbo Jet for transport to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. Endeavour will go to Los Angeles in mid-September, and in early 2013, Atlantis will take its place on permanent display at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. Test orbiter Enterprise will fly to New York City next month. Gathered here are images of NASA's final days spent processing the Space Shuttle fleet. [35 photos]

In Orbiter Processing Facility-2 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the flight deck of space shuttle Atlantis is illuminated one last time during preparations to power down Atlantis during Space Shuttle Program transition and retirement activities, on December 22, 2011. Atlantis is being prepared for public display in 2013 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. (NASA/Jim Grossmann)

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Jan. 31, 1977: A horse and rider watch as the space shuttle Enterprise is towed from a Rockwell International facility in Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base for a year of flight tests. Townspeople lined the route for a glimpse of the 110-ton shuttle. A 90-wheel transport was used and accompanied by a 20-vehicle convoy.

Never fitted with engines or a working heat shield, the Enterprise was not launched into orbit — it was only used for testing. The craft was used in a series of approach and landing tests — carried aloft in a 747, released and glided to landings at Edwards. Later the Enterprise was used for static tests in Alabama and California.

Los Angeles Times science writer George Alexander covered the public introduction of Enterprise. In the Sept. 18, 1976, edition, he reported:

To the theme music from the now-defunct television series “Star Trek,” the National Aeronautics and Space Administration rolled out the first Space Shuttle vehicle at Palmdale Friday and proclaimed the start of a new era in space transportation.

“Ain’t she a beat?” said NASA Associated Administrator John F. Yardley as the big black, white and gray spaceship was towed around the corner of a hangar at Rockwell International Corp.’s Palmdale facility and brought to a halt before a crowd of about 2,000 people…

….some of the actors who appeared in the “Star Trek” series were present. President Ford recently yielded to the petitions of many “Trekkies,” as devotees of the series call themselves, and named the orbiter “Enterprise” after the fictional spaceship flown by the “Star Trek” crew.

Space agency officials had planned to name the space shuttle “Constitution” both in honor of the historic U.S. document and in honor of the early American warship, but were overruled at the last minute by President Ford.

In 1985, Enterprise was transferred to the Smithsonian Institute.

Current plans are for the shuttle Discovery to go to the Smithsonian, with the Enterprise being transferred to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City. The retired Endeavour shuttle is scheduled to come to the California Science Center in Los Angeles by the end of 2012.

All of the images in the above photo gallery were taken by Los Angeles Times photographers except one — the “Star Trek” cast is from NASA.

Additional images from NASA are in this space shuttle photo gallery.

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